October 28, 2020

Increasing physical activity and watching less TV may help people live more years cancer-free.

Dr. Carmen Cuthbertson

Dr. Carmen Cuthbertson

Carmen Cuthbertson, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, shared these findings in a recent paper published online by Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Cuthbertson was the lead author, and her co-authors from the Gillings School include Hazel Nichols, PhD; Anna Kucharska-Newton, PhD; Gerardo Heiss, PhD; and Kelly Evenson, PhD — all in the Department of Epidemiology — as well as Xianming Tan, PhD, in the Department of Biostatistics.

While physical activity has previously been linked with longer chronic disease-free life expectancy, Cuthbertson wanted to explore the impacts of these lifestyle choices on specific cancer types. She and her colleagues examined whether moderate-to-vigorous leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) and television (TV) viewing were associated with how long people live cancer-free.

“Prior to our study, research had primarily focused on how engagement in physical activity was associated with living longer free of cardiovascular disease and chronic disease,” Cuthbertson said. “We have extended these findings by observing that engagement in physical activity is also associated with living longer free of four types of cancer. Our study suggests that if adults engaged in more physical activity and viewed less TV, they could extend the years they live healthy and free of cancer.”

For their study, the researchers turned to the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, analyzing 14,508 participants without any cancer history. They created models to examine associations of LTPA and TV viewing with life expectancy cancer-free at age 50 across a range of cancer types, including invasive colorectal, lung, prostate and postmenopausal breast cancer. Models were adjusted for age, gender, race, geographical location, education, smoking and alcohol intake.

Ultimately, the research team found that participating in physical activity was associated with longer life expectancy cancer-free from all cancer types studied. Watching less TV was associated with more years cancer-free from colorectal, lung and postmenopausal breast cancer.

“Our main message for the public is that any amount of leisure-time physical activity — compared to none —is associated with living more years cancer-free,” Cuthbertson said. “In our study, participants who reported physical activity levels equivalent to taking a brisk walk for about 50 minutes per day, five days a week, could expect to live an average of two years longer cancer-free compared to participants who reported no leisure-time physical activity.”

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

Visit our communications and marketing team page.
Contact sphcomm@unc.edu with any media inquiries or general questions.

Communications and Marketing Office
125 Rosenau Hall
CB #7400
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400